Tory West Midlands CA mayor Andy Street has warned any future Conservative leader against rolling back plans for HS2, describing the prospect as “unthinkable”.
In an interview with LGC, Mr Street said there are already 9,000 jobs linked to the development of the new high speed rail line between London and England’s major cities and said it “underpins” the newly launched West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy.
Boris Johnson, the current frontrunner in the battle to replace Theresa May, has made it clear he does not support project while a recent Yougov poll of Conservative party members found the majority (57%) wanted to cancel the train line. Last week, a House of Lords committee called for a rethink of the £56bn project, arguing it did not offer value for money.
But Mr Street said it was far too late to scrap it now.
“It would be unthinkable that an incoming Conservative prime minister would possibly go back on the commitments to the Midlands and the North that have already been made,” he said.
“The parliamentary assent was given years ago - with a huge majority and cross party support I believe, never mind what an opinion poll says now. The land has been purchased, businesses have been moved through compulsory purchase orders and new locations found [for them].
“You see as you come into Birmingham through New Street [station] on the train, that huge area is being prepared for the redevelopment, and as a consequence, 9,000 people already have their jobs through it, including lots of apprentices and throughout the supply chain.
“There are actually 2,000 people in the HS2 office here in Birmingham and of course there is the college here training people. Most importantly, it is bringing new businesses into the region, not including the 9,000 whose jobs depend on it, who want to be in a place that’s going to be a vital heart of the UK’s transport system.”
Mr Street says that the cash for the Birmingham metro extension was negotiated as part of the HS2 growth strategy four years ago and that HS2 isn’t just about “building a vast line”, but about all the connectivity in the region that results from it. “That connectivity underpins the future productivity of the region, it’s absolutely a foundation stone on which so much is built,” he said.
Mr Street said he was “pretty sure” there would be litigation if HS2 was scrapped “because obviously some people’s lives have been completely uprooted for it and if it was not to happen, there has got to be some redress”.
There has been speculation that the government may decide to continue with the first phase of the line from London to Birmingham, but to cancel phase two, which would link the West Midlands with Leeds and Manchester.
But Mr Street argues that the entire project is fundamental to north-south connectivity. “The idea of stopping in Birmingham, you wouldn’t be able to build an economic case for that. There was a really robust case built that HS2 was in the national interest.
“And as far as we are concerned, scrapping phase two would fail on the objective not just to connect to London – transport to London is relatively good at the moment – it’s about connecting between the other major cities. This is really fundamental, the whole piece is built on this. That is what will drive a revival in the North and the Midlands.”